Cycling: Hamilton paid $40,000 a year for doping

Disgraced former US cyclist Tyler Hamilton told a Spanish court Tuesday he paid tens of thousands of euros (dollars) a year to the doctor at the heart of the Operation Puerto scandal for blood doping and other drug supply services to boost his performance in competition.

Hamilton told Judge Julia Santamaria via video link that he used blood doping some 15 times and had also bought the blood booster EPO, testosterone, growth hormone and insulin off defendant Eufemiano Fuentes.

Fuentes, his sister and fellow doctor, Yolanda; Manolo Saiz, a former ONCE and Liberty Seguros team sports director; and Vicente Belda and Ignacio Labarta, both associated with the former Kelme team, are on trial for endangering public health.

Hamilton said he paid between 25,000 and 30,000 for the services in 2002 and 2003. He then agreed to pay 50,000 ($US67,000) for 2004, but was not able to complete the treatment because he tested positive for receiving someone else's blood in September 2004.

Hamilton was stripped of his gold medal from the 2004 Athens Olympics last year after confessing to doping.

Meanwhile, the judge announced that two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, one of 50 cyclists implicated in the Puerto investigation, would not be required to appear in court.

Ignacio Arroyo, the attorney for defendant Saiz, said at the end of Tuesday's hearing that he renounced the witness statement he had requested from Contador. Santamaria then ruled that as Arroyo had been the only trial participant to request testimony from Contador, the rider's presence would no longer be necessary.

Hamilton, a former professional rider for the US Postal and CSC teams, among others, said he had first met Fuentes at a rest area "on the highway between Barcelona and Valencia" in Spain "to fix up blood transfusions" and "to plan for the future."

Blood doping is a high-technology technique that extracts blood from a rider, separates red cells from the plasma they normally float in, and then re-injects the oxygen-carrying cells back into a rider just before a boost in performance is required.

"The worst reaction I had was 2004 when I had a reinfusion during the Tour de France and as far as I could tell the blood hadn't been stored properly," Hamilton told the court. He said he knew something was not working out as it should when he went to the bathroom "35-40 minutes later and my urine was black."

Then, on Sept. 11 of the same year, while riding in Spain's Vuelta, he tested positive for "mixed blood cell population," or receiving someone else's blood.

The test came just weeks after winning the time trial at the Athens Olympics and under two months since suffering the severe reaction to the reinfusion, he said.

Hamilton said a number of things could have gone wrong for him to have tested positive for having someone else's cells in his bloodstream. He said it was possible that somehow his bag had got mixed up with another rider's, or the bag could have been tampered with, or the test gave a wrong result.

Under cross-examination, Hamilton said he had heard that another rider in his team, Santiago Perez, had also tested positive for the same reason.

He said he knew Perez and other riders also used Fuentes' blood doping services because they had flown together from Lyon in France to Madrid, during the Dauphine Libere race, to get infused.

"We spent one night in Madrid," he said, staying at a hotel near the airport where they received blood doping, and returned to the race where "we all breathed through our noses."

When asked by Santamaria what the expression meant, Hamilton said it was cycling jargon for not needing to breathe heavily with mouths open, "and all of us finished in the top 10 of the race," he said.

The ex-rider said the reason why Fuentes had upped the price of his treatment was the incorporation of a high-tech freezer in which blood products could be stored for a long time and transported without suffering any deterioration in quality. "We called it Siberia," he said.

When asked who had put him in contact with Fuentes, Hamilton said that one-time Tour de France and Giro d'Italia winner "Bjarne Riis, general manager of team CSC, put me in touch with him."

Riis currently runs the Saxo Tinkoff team, which includes Contador among its riders. Contador was stripped of a third Tour title after testing positive for clenbuterol.

Earlier, Jordi Segura, the director of a laboratory in Barcelona where many of the blood bags seized during police raids on Fuentes' labs, offices and apartments are stored, said his team had been able to determine that eight bags had given abnormally readings of EPO.

He said the EPO was of a type called "recombining, which is different from endogenous or normally occurring EPO in humans."

Segura said the analysis tests that could be performed on bags today were much more thorough and sophisticated than those possible when the evidence was transferred to his lab for safekeeping in 2006.

Many of the plaintiffs in the Puerto trial, including Spain's anti-doping agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency want Santamaria to release the bags to investigators for further testing after the Puerto trial concludes.

The trial is limited to doping in cycling, even though athletes in other sports were also reportedly implicated in blood doping with Fuentes. Such evidence could be contained in the bags.

In the Puerto trial, Santamaria can rule only on matters covered by Spanish law as it applied in May 2006, when doping in sport was not illegal.

As the hearing ended, Hamilton apologized to Santamaria for cheating. "My biggest fear was that something like this (trial) would happen," he told the judge.

- AP

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